Archive for March, 2012

Op-Eds, B2B Levity And Bob Gibson In Skater-Dude Motif

My last “grab bag” showcased donut drama.

No such alliteration (or glaze) in today’s segment.

Behind the Op-Ed Curtain at The New York Times

I’ve touched on this area before.

Landing an op-ed in a heavyweight target like The New York Times requires crisp and clever storytelling.

I just stumbled across a column in The NYT titled, “And Now A Word From Op-Ed.”

Even though the piece was published back in 2004, it still rings true with insights:

Our decisions about which essays to publish aren’t governed by a need for editorial variety alone. Among other things, we look for timeliness, ingenuity, strength of argument, freshness of opinion, clear writing and newsworthiness. Personal experiences and first-person narrative can be great, particularly when they’re in service to a larger idea. So is humor, when it’s funny. Does it help to be famous? Not really. In fact, the bar of acceptance gets nudged a little higher for people who have the means to get their message out in other ways – elected officials, heads of state, corporate titans. It’s incumbent on them to say something forthright and unexpected. Op-Ed real estate is too valuable to be taken up with press releases.

Love the line that encourages humor … “when it’s funny.”

Comical Cloud Computing

Not exactly.

But a graphic in the LSI paper “Cloud Computing, Hype or Reality and How to Tell” caught my attention.

cloud computing

You’ve got to like a B2B company brave enough to bring a pinch of levity to the wacky topic of cloud-based storage.

Wonder if any customers inquired about the interface requirements for a kitchen sink.

Storytelling in Sports

Some of the best storytelling in journalism takes place in sports.

Tim Keown from ESPN The Magazine profiled Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw with this vignette on Timmy:

Lincecum’s long-hair cool does a thorough job of hiding the fierceness within. The look, exuding casual disinterest, is part diversion, part lie. Deep down inside, Lincecum is an old-school baseball guy, Bob Gibson in skater-dude motif.

Superfluous Language

Glad Federal Express anoints its trucks with the word “ground.”

fedex ground truck

Wouldn’t want someone to think the truck might sprout wings and fly to Memphis.

That’s a wrap.

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Aligning Business Storytelling With What The Media Values

There’s often a gap, no make that a huge gap, between what the media values and what the PR function “sells.”

It’s no wonder the relationship between journalists and communicators can border on contentious at times.

In the graphic below, you can see two variables that go a long way toward aligning with the media’s needs:

pr chart
With the exception of companies like Apple announcing a new iPad, journalists relegate product announcements to the bottom of the food chain.

Yet, most companies devote the vast majority of content development to news releases and company-centric information.

Communicators can lose sight of the simple fact that media properties charter their reporters/bloggers to cover industries and issues, not companies (again, with the exception of goliaths like Apple).

The vertical axis addresses if a particular data point, perspective or story resides in the “public domain.”

Obviously, reporters value information not in the public domain, allowing the opportunity to write with a fresh angle.

I put public domain in quotes because the information can technically be in the public domain, but if no one knows about it or correlates the information, then it still offers a potential fresh angle.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

BusinessWeek recently ran a feature titled, “Fastenal’s Runaway Stock Success.”

The story fits in the upper-left quadrant of our chart, even though the raw content (stock price data) has always been there for all to see.

The journalist, Roben Farzad, asked the question: What is the top performing stock since the crash of 1987?

His dot-connecting produced a contrarian result.

The lead sentence sets the stage with a pinch of showmanship:

There’s no shame in not knowing the top-performing stock since the crash of ’87. It’s neither Apple (AAPL) nor Microsoft (MSFT), and deprived of the obvious candidates, most people draw a blank.

The natural inclination is to think of known brands particularly strong in innovation.

The punch line -

A company called Fastenal racked up the greatest stock price gains since 1987.

Fastenal happens to play in the scintillating fastener category (bolts, screws, nuts, etc.), not exactly an area one perceives as high growth.

Again, the raw content sat in the public domain.

This same type of thinking can be applied to corporate storytelling with the objective of pushing more content into the upper half of the chart.


Quantifying The Intangible Quality Called Buzz

Ask 10 people to define buzz and you’ll get seven different answers.

Three people will say, “I know it when I see it.”

It’s easy to quantify a YouTube video by the number of views.

It’s straightforward to quantify a blog through the underlying analytics.

But how do you quantify buzz for a company, especially one in the B2B space?

Here’s a thought that gets horseshoe-close.

It’s called Google.

Using the timeframe function in the search engine (below graphic), you can measure the number of hits by quarter, which starts to give you a feel for the buzz factor.

google search custom date range

True, this doesn’t touch on the qualitative side, but given how much due diligence takes place online, it’s not a bad starting point.

Applying the theory to our client, SuVolta, you can see how the numbers played out in 2011.

suvolta google hits

SuVolta officially came out of stealth mode in June 2011, so you would expect a modest profile in Q1 2011. From the June launch forward, you’d like to see a decent spike, which occurs between Q2 and Q4 (Q3 was a catch-your-breath quarter).

Given SuVolta sits in a somewhat esoteric space – technology for constructing the transistors that make up chips – I’d say these numbers show a certain level of buzz.

I recognize the approach falls short of rigorous research. Obviously, the universe of hits will contain a lot of junk and, short of going through each and every one, it’s tough to calculate the percent of good stuff.

Still, I think the technique has possibilities.

And on the qualitative side, you can apply the eye test; i.e., does it look like a company on the move?

Here’s the page one of the Google search results for Q1 2011

analyzing buzz with google

Again, the company was still in stealth, so a fairly humdrum stream.

Here’s the page one of the Google search results for Q4 of the same year:

using google to calculate corporate buzz

With publications ranging from Reuters to VentureBeat to EE Times, it passes the eye test.

I’d welcome hearing your thoughts.

In the meantime, I’ll keep experimenting.


LinkedIn Encourages Bad Behavior

The underpinnings of any social network revolve around the interactions.

By personalizing those interactions, we share a little about ourselves and make connections.

For all the things that are great about LinkedIn – there are plenty, not the least being pulling other social feeds into one’s profile – it defies logic that LinkedIn encourages impersonal interactions by defaulting to a boilerplate when someone sends a let’s-connect message on the platform.

Here’s an example of the boilerplate that arrives in my inbox 90+ percent of the time.

linkedin default

Not exactly brimming with a personal touch.

If I was Reid Hoffman (not related, but open to offers on, I would simply leave the box blank, prompting the sender to write a personalized note.

What a concept.

In such a scenario, Mr. Gladwell might have written the following:

linked in personal message

How hard is it to start with the person’s name?

Even if you don’t write for a living, crafting such a note takes less than 120 seconds.

120 seconds for a personalized let’s-connect note on LinkedIn.

Seems like a reasonable ROI.


If Goldman Sachs Views NY Times Op-Ed As A PR Crisis, Their Communications Will Utterly Fail

goldman sachsGoldman Sachs just turned to Richard Siewert, Jr., former counsel to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, to take the public relations reins.

Obviously, Goldman Sachs felt something had to change.

But they had no way of knowing the firm’s tarnished image would morph into a full-blown crisis.

That’s what happened yesterday when Greg Smith’s op-ed, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” appeared in The New York Times.

What makes the Smith piece so damning is it calls out the decay from the inside looking out with one overriding message:

Goldman Sachs will do anything to make money even if it comes at the expense of its clients.

You want clarity in message. There you go.

Here’s a smattering of the highlights:

  • … The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
  • … Interests of the client continue to be sidelined.
  • Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

Encouraged that financial analysts see value in hyperbole.

  • I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them.
  • It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail.
  • These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?”

I guess what happens in Goldman Sachs doesn’t stay in Goldman Sachs.

Makes for riveting business storytelling.

It’s the type of blistering narrative that is sure to get the attention of clients, prospects, employees, friends and family of employees, and even government officials (no doubt part of President Obama’s Wednesday morning reading package).

So how does Goldman Sachs respond?

If the company views this as a PR crisis, they will utterly fail.

This isn’t about countering Smith’s words with the company point of view and striving to generate media coverage with diffusion in mind. The worse move would be to quickly cobble together their own op-ed as part of a tit-for-tat strategy.

This is a crisis of operation that cuts to the core of how Goldman Sachs conducts business.

Which actually offers a bigger opportunity for Siewert and the PR function.

Assuming Goldman Sachs can put its institutional arrogance to the side, Siewert can serve as a catalyst in shaping the new Goldman Sachs. I touched on this PR utopia before. As the “conscience” of the company, he can clinically identify the decisions and actions that don’t align with the company’s aspirations and core values. Does the company change how it behaves or change its aspirations and core values?

The two need alignment for effective communications.

If the company decides the aspirations and core values need some “tweaking,” keep the current management team.

But if it’s the behavior and actions that need an overhaul, Siewert has the unenviable task of pointing out that the leadership, starting with Mr. Blankfein, needs to change.

Otherwise, the never-ending barrage of negative stories will erode the brand until there is no brand.

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